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Most Points Near Flat; Northeast Quotes Soar, Anticipating Nor'easter

As a producer had predicted Thursday, most weekend prices stayed fairly close to flat Friday in a mixed market. The conspicuous exceptions were Northeast citygates, which all rose by more than 30 cents as a Nor'easter bore down on the region.

Most of the losses occurred in the West and ran as high as about 15 cents. Otherwise the market ranged from flat to a little more than 70 cents higher at Transco Zone 6-New York City.

A winter storm in the South was due to turn northward over Georgia Friday night and bring heavy snow and frigid temperatures along much of the East Coast over the weekend. However, the snowfalls were expected to end Monday as the storm departs the region and leave only cold temperatures behind.

The South, which had escaped severe cold for the most part last week, would get a much bigger taste of what real winter weather is like during the weekend. Even Houston was forecast to have a low around freezing Saturday. Things were expected to be quiet and merely cold for the Midwest through the weekend, but that region can look for much worse cold late this week, The Weather Channel (TWC) said. The West was forecast to avoid the colder trends of the rest of the nation and to see above normal temperatures during the weekend. However, the Pacific Northwest will be feeling much colder conditions around the middle of the week, TWC said.

Northwest Pipeline cited the impending return of colder weather in saying it might have to issue an OFO and entitlement for northbound flows through the Kemmerer (WY) Compressor Station if customers continue to nominate such flows in excess of the station's design capacity (for last Thursday's gas day scheduled volumes through Kemmerer were about 48,000 Dth/d above capacity, the pipeline said).

A marketer said Northwest's posting was essentially a warning to firm shippers, since his company and others using nonfirm capacity haven't been able to ship gas north through Kemmerer anyway for some time.

Florida Gas Transmission numbers in Louisiana were strong. Even though the pipe ended an Overage Alert Day (OAD) notice Friday (see Transportation Notes), a cold front moving into central Florida and FGT's cautionary alert that another OAD could be forthcoming kept producing area demand high.

Northern Natural's Ventura trading point was by far the biggest gainer in the Midcontinent, with the pipe projecting that its system average weighted temperature would be 15 degrees Saturday and 16 degrees Sunday (figures revised from Thursday).

A Midcontinent producer reported getting some calls for supply from regional utilities Friday that hadn't called earlier in the week. However, prices tended to go a little lower near the end of cash trading, he said.

Calling the storage overhang "the major issue in the market right now," the producer said he and others in his area are trying to take as much of their gas out of storage as possible "before the [withdrawal] onslaught begins." They don't care that much about the price; it's more about just getting the gas out, he said. The producer foresees "a major problem in March" from the storage surplus.

A western marketer said Friday was a pretty quiet trading day with tight spreads. He expressed surprise that daily prices didn't fall in tandem with March futures. The screen would slip 3 cents, he said, but Sumas, for example, would go down only half a penny or so. There was not a one-for-one relationship as has often occurred in the past, he said. The marketer noted that February "still has the best storage injection value at this point" for those with the ability to be able to inject.

"It's mild and there's lots of storage, so we're cutting gas" under a flexible winter term contract, a Northeast utility buyer. Even if it's cold right now, winter is essentially over for all practical purposes, he added. "We're trying to release capacity whenever possible to help our customers handle these high bills," he said.

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